Homily for July 17, the V Sunday after Pentecost (according to the 1962 Missal)
From time to time, high-profile court cases catch the attention of the nation through the mass media. The more publicity these cases attract, the more people tend to come to their own conclusions. Yet, often the judge or jury’s verdict or sentence is not as harsh as most people would like. We think we know that the accused are guilty, and yet they are often acquitted on most or all charges. Partly, the reason is that, in our criminal court system, someone must be provem guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in order to be convicted. That means that we might be convinced that the person is guilty, but unless guilt is proven objectively with moral certainty, the person must be given the benefit of the doubt. I think this is often a good thing; we cannot read people’s minds, and we can easily be misled by circumstantial evidence and by our own biases. And in fact, at times we later discover that the verdict of public opinion was actually wrong.
However, this is not the case with God’s judgments. He sees all things, and knows the very thoughts of our hearts. His judgment is always true and fair. He will judge us as we really are, not according to the evidence available to the public. Sometimes we can kind of forget that, and focus more on doing what is right in front of other people than on purifying our hearts. We can try to deal with God like many people do with the IRS. We formulate an image of ourselves to present to Him that we think is plausible, while trying to hide some aspects of the truth and take advantage of every loophole we can find to cut ourselves some slack. We even try to convince ourselves that our sanitized, constructed self-image is true.
Today’s admonitions warn us against such folly. Instead of trying to ensure that our sins have plausible deniability, St Peter reminds us that we should sincerely seek what is just and good at all times, being forgiving and merciful to others, accepting suffering for the sake of the Lord. In the Gospel, Jesus Himself tells us that God gives importance not just to our acts, but to our words, thoughts and voluntarily accepted desires. He wants us to be truly at peace with each other in our hearts before we can be truly at peace with Him.
At the same time, we have to be careful not to slip into thinking of God as an Orwellian “Big Brother”, scrutinizing our every move in order to trip us up. He cannot help being aware of everything we do; we only exist because He loves us and maintains us in existence in every moment. He sees our faults, but He is equally – or even more – attentive to our good desires and our prayers. He is our light and our salvation, our help, our strength and our protector. He has taught us how to serve and love Him because He wants us to be freed from the influence of the devil, and happy with Him forever in heaven.
So today we will join with trust and confidence in the Postcommunion prayer: “Grant, O Lord, we beseech Thee, that we whom Thou has fed with the heavenly Gift, may be cleansed from our hidden sins and delivered from the snares of our enemies.”